The Bat Tattoo
by Russell Hoban
This is a witty, quirky, romantic story set in contemporary London, featuring a laconic American toy maker, Roswell Clark, and Sarah Varley a London antiques dealer. The two are widowed and find that they are now ready to face the future and are looking for something more in their lives.
The couple meet on the steps of the Victoria And Albert museum. Roswell has gone there to check out the bats painted on an 18th century Chinese bowl, whose image he has seen in a book. The reason he wants to see them is because he fancies a tattoo of this image on his shoulder because he thinks that the bats are "really happy looking" and might bring him some luck.
As fate would have it Sarah also has a bat tattoo. The couple are drawn together and after several chance encounters begin a tender, mid-life romance.
Roswell tells of his childhood and how he was drawn to London from the literature of his youth, his Dickensian fancies conjuring up 'stories of London fogs, and newsboys running past the window shouting "Dreadful murder in the Marylebone Road!" '. He tells how his father's death affected him and how his mother allowed his father's body to be used in crash-tests - post-mortem, of course! This in turn led him to invent his best selling toy car, 'Crash Test', made from 'Mnemoplast' an invention of Roswell's that can withstand violent impact and be easily re-assembled. Then Roswell is commissioned to create some rather adult toys for a mysterious Parisian client……..
Sarah's voice is less clear but she comes across as a quiet, philosophical sort still grieving her husband but aware of her own desires. Her first impression of Roswell isn't a particularly favourable one - she thinks him unmemorable, the kind of person who "often has trouble catching the waiter's eye". Nevertheless, the lives of the two are soon intertwined.
I loved this book. It has all the markings of a Russell Hoban classic including serendipitous meetings, humour, nefarious goings on, (those toys!) and, as always, a profound understanding of the human psyche.
Read our interview with Russell Hoban.